Today, we had an exam in our English classroom. one of the questions was:

All the rubbish .... in the sea is a real danger to health.

A) floated B) floating C) which floating D) is floating

I checked B (floating) because I thought rubbish can float itself as a subject so It couldn't be passive. But our teacher said that it's wrong and option A is the true one because rubbishes can't float themselves so it's a passive sentence.
The problem is this, I can't understand why it's a passive sentence! because in our book, there is a sentence like this:

These plates (talking about crust plates) float on the soft, plastic mantle below the crust.

In the above sentence, the plates can float so the sentence is active but why in the quiz the rubbishes can not float and are passive?

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    You are right and your teacher is wrong: float may be used either transitively (We floated toy sailboats in the lake) or intransitively (Boats were floating in the lake). Refer your teacher to a dictionary such as ODO. – StoneyB Dec 7 '14 at 15:33
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    I suggest you find a new teacher...right after you tell them that the answer is C: afloat. ;) – Joe Dark Dec 7 '14 at 15:38
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    Both floated and floating are grammatical in that sentence. It's not clear what this has to do with Passive. Was the quiz, perhaps, about identifying passive constructions, rather than picking grammatical constructions? Because the difference between floated and floating is that floated is a Passive Participle, while floating is an Active Participle. – John Lawler Dec 7 '14 at 15:54
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    If you look closely, you may find that you're being asked to distinguish which sentence has the passive form. If you're being asked which is the passive form, then answering (b) is an incorrect answer; that doesn't mean it's an ungrammatical sentence, however. – John Lawler Dec 7 '14 at 17:15
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    This isn't a complete question. You've included the model sentence and the possible answers, but you haven't included the instructions -- the actual question part of the question. This could be a case where your teacher is mistaken, but it could also be a case where you misunderstood what the question asked. We need all the relevant details. – Gary Botnovcan Dec 7 '14 at 19:18

If the only direction for answering this question is to choose the best fit for the blank in the sentence, then I have to agree with you that B) is the answer.

Both C) and D) result in grammatical errors. C) results in a subject that's missing a verb, and D) results in a verb that's missing a subject. We can easily ignore those possibilities.

Both A) and B) result in grammatically sound sentences. "Floated" could be the simple past tense form, or it could be the so-called past participle form. "Floating" could be the so-called present participle form, or it could be the gerund form. The blank in the model sentence can be filled with a participle. If we have to choose only one of these answers, then we have have to look at more than grammatical correctness.

You found a good reference sentence. Tectonic plates float on the molten mantle. This sentence uses the common intransitive sense of the verb "to float", and it employs the active voice. The same structure can be used to describe some of the information in the model sentence: Rubbish floats in the sea.

The verb "to float" also has a transitive sense. In fact, it has more than one. The molten mantle floats the tectonic plates. Children float their toy boats in this pond. We can form passive voice sentences from the information in these active voice statements: Tectonic plates are floated by the mantle. Toy boats are floated by children.

We cannot choose between A) and B) on the basis of which voice makes sense. Both voices make sense. The rubbish is floating. The rubbish was floated by someone or something.

I would choose B) because the resulting sentence is less confusing. It is easy to mistake the form "floated" for the simple past tense, since the forms are identical. The passive form implies an unmentioned agent, but no such agent is needed for the model sentence to make sense. The intransitive sense of "to float" is more common. English is my native (and only) language, so I can choose the option which sounds the most natural.

If I had to choose only one answer, I'd choose B) as the best answer. If I had to choose all applicable answers, I'd choose both A) and B) as correct answers. I don't see any way to eliminate B) as a valid choice.


Imho, the rubbish does the floating, so that's Active voice. Passive voice is "the rubbish which is floated in the sea" and, "rubbish [which is - implied] floated in the sea". What "voice" were you asked to select? The question implies you were asked to choose passive voice and if that's the case, the teacher is correct.

  • Tnq. As I said, I should chose between passive or active voice. so both of them are correct? O.o – Amirreza Nasiri Dec 8 '14 at 12:44

See OALD to float, intransitive and transative. Rubbisish floats/is floating on/in the water. If you use to float sth it means to make something float. http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/float_1

  • So you say floating is correct? – Amirreza Nasiri Dec 8 '14 at 12:45
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    Yes, floating is correct. I think OALD has got it right. A piece of advice: I would recommend not to discuss this point with your teacher. Be glad that you know what is correct. But don't make your teacher lose his/her face. – rogermue Dec 8 '14 at 17:27

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